One course uses three-dimensional software. Another involves hands-on projects. A third requires documenting work in an engineer's notebook.
Next year, an innovative, award-winning science program is coming to Owings Mills High School and Abbey Campbell, its principal, is doing everything she can to make it a success.
The program, Pathway to Engineering, begins in fall of 2014, for the 2014-2015 school years. The initial year will enroll incoming ninth graders, and the program will continue to be rolled out each year through 12th grade.
"The idea is that students make a commitment to take it all four years, starting as a freshman," says Campbell, who intends to spend the spring touring the five middle schools in Owings Mills, Reisterstown and Pikesville that feed into the high school.
Pathway to Engineering is a series of courses, given one per year. The courses are in addition to students' regular school curriculum, although the course given in the 9th grade does fulfill the public school system's graduation requirement for advanced technology.
"It's like taking an elective," Campbell says of the Pathway courses.
OMHS is kicking off the program with a maximum of 25 students, a goal for Campbell. If demand exceeds that number, an increase in the future is possible. Campbell is in the midst of finalizing criteria for enrollment.
"It's an opportunity for students who are interested in math and science," says Campbell, who points to transferable college credits, job training, internship possibilities and mentorship options as incentives for students. "It gives students who take it a leg up" in certain fields.
Pathway to Engineering and its sister program for high schoolers, Biomedical Sciences, are run by Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a nonprofit organization based in Indianapolis.
PLTW is a collaboration between scientists and educators to develop a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum to boost high school students' science skills and to prepare them for future careers. PLTW also has a program for middle schoolers, Gateway to Technology.
In 2002, Maryland introduced Pathway to Engineering into its public high schools, one of the first states in the country to do so. Biomedical Sciences followed in 2007. Currently, 100 high schools have the engineering program; 38 school, biomedical, due to its later entry.
Both programs have turned out to be hits with high schoolers. Pathway to Engineering has the highest enrollment and Biomedical Sciences is the fastest growing in the state education department's career and technology education category.
Luke Rhine, program specialist in that category in the state education department, manages the PLTW programs in partnership with affiliate directors, Dr. Anne Spence, of University of Maryland Baltimore County, for Pathway to Engineering and Dr. Meredith Durmowicz, of Stevenson University, for Biomedical Sciences.
According to Rhine, schools apply to the state for the PLTW programs. Schools can apply for both engineering and biomedical programs, and some do. Teacher training is required, as is a certification process to become a state-approved career program. Local school jurisdictions decide eligibility requirements.
In Baltimore County Public Schools, which schools get PLTW programs and whether it's engineering or biomedical sciences are executive decisions, says Douglas Handy, supervisor, technology education at BCPS. For fiscal year 2014, the county received $1.2 million in federal funding, channeled through the state, for all of its career and technology programs.
"They look at capacity," says Handy, adding that Pikesville High has the engineering program, and Franklin and New Town, biomedical sciences.
So popular has Pathway to Engineering become that Spence, UMBC mechanical engineering department's professor of the practice, has had to hire a business manager to help her run it.
"Schools are begging to host Pathway," she says. "It's an advantage to the school to offer advanced programs," not only for the prestige but for the college credits the programs offer participating students.
At Owings Mills High, Campbell is already looking at ways to develop the Pathway program in the coming years. She is in the process of putting together a board, and is seeking people in construction, engineering and related fields who can not only give advice but, she hopes, internships as well.
"I'd like our students to have real-world experiences," she says. "My goal is to make Owings Mills students competitive in college admissions and in the workplace."